leadership

MacGyvers and champions: Six entrepreneurs on the one person they couldn’t live without in their business

Emma Koehn /

Miranda Gillespie Luxe.it.fwd

Luxe.it.fwd founder Miranda Gillespie. Source: Supplied

Finding a kindred spirit in the business world has the power to turn strong ideas into wild success stories.

It’s virtually impossible for an entrepreneur to grow an empire completely solo; but how do successful business people find indispensable talent?

This week SmartCompany asked six entrepreneurs to tell us one person they just couldn’t live without in their business. Their answers highlight the value of camaraderie, invention, support and humour, as well as the importance of company founders finding trustworthy, long-term supporters to bring their visions to life.

The action takers

As a company founder, there will come a time when you’ll have to take a big step back from the day-to-day of your business and put your faith and trust in talented operations staff to get the job done.

ActivePipe founder Ashley Farrugia says his chief operating officer, Gavan Stewart, is responsible for taking action.

It’s one thing to fly all around the world and create all the growth opportunities but unless you have someone to make those opportunities a reality you are wasting your time! I can count on my COO to bring all our opportunities to life and focus on the hustle that goes with building a global business,” he tells SmartCompany

Luxe.It.Fwd founder Miranda Gillespie champions her second-in-charge as the staff member she couldn’t live without as the team grows its online pre-owned designer handbag reselling business.

The burden of running a business solo is incredibly lessened by me not having to spend the time and mental energy overseeing every last aspect of the business, something which is a godsend to have as a business owner,” Gillespie says. 

The pair started working together in a different capacity, with her second-in-charge Hannah taking on a more administrative role within the business. But it soon became clear she had more to offer in an operations role where she could help “knock over issues and independently implement solutions”.

The open thinkers

Other founders say their most valuable staff are those who have grown into their roles by staying curious and open to new possibilities within the business.

Founder of the Australian arm of outdoor furniture business Alice’s Garden, Sebastien Guyot, says a recent addition to his team is proving to be invaluable to operations. This unnamed manager has quickly become a “MacGgyver” within the business, says Guyot.

Why did he become so valuable? It’s hard to say, but we think that in addition to having an open mindset, he has a very curious approach on everything. He always challenges the status quo and really tries to understand the purpose of what he does/undertakes. That’s probably why he has so much drive,” Guyot says. 

Adding value comes down to being keen to offer solutions to problems or challenges within a business, Guyot says, and not being afraid to offer constructive criticism early on.

“After a few weeks within the company he has not only been able to identify some key weaknesses in the business, but more importantly he came back with several constructive solutions/options that we have been able to consider and implement,” he says.  

Partners and personality clashes

When it comes to co-founders, it seems opposites might attract. Entrepreneur Tabitha West says she would never have been able to get her Into the Woods Glamping business off the ground without co-founder Stefan Pomosan.

Stefan is the complete opposite of me and this works so well because for what I lack, he makes up for. He is analytical and practical and I am very big on ideas and relationships and am more entrepreneurial,” she says.

As the business has progressed it has become more clear that working with someone, whether that be a business partner or a manager, that has skills and qualities you lack is the key to growth.” 

Meanwhile, MadeComfy co-founder Sabrina Bethunin says her most valuable ally is her co-founder Quirin Schwaighofer, largely because the pair have been able to leverage their very different backgrounds over time. 

“We share a real passion for what we do, we have shared values and most importantly we are very different in personality, nationality, background and areas of expertise,” Bethunin says. 

The idea for for the property-focused business sprung up after the pair met through a mutual friend. Bethunin looked after Schwaighofer’s Airbnb property as a favour and restyled it in the process. MadeComfy was born. 

As we have very different personalities, time has been our best friend to understand the unique value that each of us add to the business,” Bethunin says. 

However, working together has proved a big win for the pair, with each able to lend a separate set of skills to the business.

The fact that we have similar values and genuine interest in what we do allows us to have a relationship that is based in solid trust.” 

MadeComfy

MadeComfy co-founders Quirin Schwaighofer and Sabrina Bethunin. Source: Supplied

For other entrepreneurs, however, a crossover of work and family life has worked in their company’s favour.

Accountant Nathan Watt says his co-founder in Watson and Watt, Taigan Watt, is the most valuable business ally he has. The pair also happen to be married.

“We are both accountants, and met at an accounting firm we were both working for around 10 years ago,” he explains.

They left that firm, took jobs at different providers and started their family, before making the jump to launch their own venture. Despite coming from similar professional backgrounds, Watt says they’ve been able to leverage the business to greater success because of their different skill sets.

“She has taught me more about people and client management, how to induct and train people and how to be a leader people want to work for, than I could ever have taught her about accounting [having been in the game longer],” Watt says.

“This business and my leadership skills wouldn’t be where they are without her input.”

NOW READ: Everything founders need to know about finding and keeping a mentor

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is SmartCompany's senior journalist.

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